‘Maritime Law is against killing unarmed men'

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Attention Italian authorities, all is not fair even in war. During the first World War, Lieutenant Godfrey Herbert, who belonged to the British ship HMS Baralong, had execu

Published: 27th February 2012 07:31 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 06:04 PM   |  A+A-

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Attention Italian authorities, all is not fair even in war. During the first World War, Lieutenant Godfrey Herbert, who belonged to the British ship HMS Baralong, had executed the surviving sailors of a sinking German vessel. Later, he was tried for the war crime.

“International Maritime Law is against killing of unarmed men, even if they are enemies or during a war,” opined Capt K A Pillai, retired Navy captain, who was also UNESCO’S trainer on International Maritime Law for ship captains.

According to the International Maritime Law, violence against unarmed human beings comes under the definition of piracy. So Enrica Lexie is a pirated ship in the eyes of the law.

“India can confiscate the cargo as a bounty and can try the entire crew,” he said. The rules are covered under the Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS) Convention, Rules of International Maritime Organisation (IMO) under the UNO and Article 15 to 17 of the Geneva Convention on High Seas, April 24, 1958, drafted by the International Law Commission.

Though Pillai appreciated the Indian officials for confiscating Enrica Lexie, he flayed the authorities for the inordinate delay in collecting evidence. This will give the Italian authorities enough time to manipulate the evidence, he said.

“Within hours of berthing the ship, they must have collected the log book, duty roster of the naval personnel and certified copy of armoury register. The police may have collected lists of firearms carried onboard, empty cartridges, explanation of missing cartridges, ballistic report of fire arms recently fired etc all at the time of confiscation of ship,” Capt Pillai said.

Even if the position of Enrica Lexie at the time of incident was outside the territorial waters, the country could take action, Pillai opined.

“The reported position of Enrica Lexie is 22.3 nautical miles (nm). This is in contiguous zone. Any country can take action against the crime occurred at the contiguous zone which is within 24 nm,” he said.

He said that it would be foolishness to accept the Italian Government’s move to court-martial the suspects. “All the Navy manuals exempt crimes such as murder, culpable homicide not amounting to murder and rape from the military court-martial. These cases could be tried only in civil court. Italy’s claim to court-martial them is outright false,” said Capt Pillai, who was also a court-martial officer of the Indian Navy.

As per the International Maritime Law, any ship which comes across an injured person at sea should provide assistance. This is mandatory and many ship masters had lost their certification for failing to do so. The captain of the Italian ship made no attempt to investigate the condition of the injured boat crew. Even if it was a pirate boat, the law demands the captain to save the lives of the injured once they surrender, Capt Pillai said.

He said that there was no justification in keeping the ship so long causing heavy losses to the company. The shipping company should be asked to deposit at least one million dollar as compensation for the boat and crew. “Both the government and police should cooparate to complete the investigation as fast as possible and to provide compensation for the victims’ families,” he said.


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